Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Troubled Judiciary

The newly appointed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, uttered some valid truisms which are quoted in today’s newspapers. He said:

- The man in the street is disillusioned by the judiciary’s role and the way justice is dispensed because proper justice has become elusive in our society.
- Delay in dispensing justice was the same as denying justice and bred a chaotic and lawless society.
- National dailies, editorials and voices raised in [parliament] demanding accountability of judges shows a serious crisis of confidence that can shake the very foundation of the country’s judicial hierarchy.
One needn’t look far to discover where the real problem lies.

Take for example the Mukhtaran Mai case. At Musharraf’s command his flunkies (i.e. the Government of Pakistan) placed the woman in preventative custody, entered her name in the ECL, brought her under escort to Islamabad and subsequently seized her passport.

Now if we had a truly independent judiciary Mukhtaran Mai could have filed charges against Musharraf and the Government of Pakistan for illegal detention, kidnapping and forced transportation to Islamabad, theft of passport and unlawful entry of her name in the ECL. The judiciary would then have summoned Musharraf, Nilofer Bakhtiar, etc. to answer the charges made against them.

Can anyone envisage this happening in the near future?

No, of course not. That is why the judicial branch of the State has been rendered totally compliant by the executive branch of the State. And it is not just Musharraf’s military regime that prefers an emasculated judiciary; our previous civilian governments were no different. It is worth recalling what happened the last time a Chief Justice decided to assert his freedom - Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif sent their goons to ransack the Supreme Court.

Ideally even before democracy, we need a rule of law whereby the law is not only enforced but is applied equally to all – from presidents to street sweepers. Only by creating such a rich and fertile environment can we then plant democracy properly and firmly, and will it to flourish.


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